Monday, March 27, 2017

“Disintegration Loops III” Beautiful, Inscrutable

TRIP SLAYMAKER ’18

A&E EDITOR

The evenings of last Thursday, Friday and Saturday saw the performance of Disintegration Loops Part III: Destinies and Densities. Very few theatergoers had a stable idea of what they would be seeing at Austin Arts Center. Never before performed for an audience, this was the third part of a trilogy, every installment of which was conceived by Trinity’s Mitchell Polin, Associate Professor of Theater and Dance.
Conceptually, Disintegration Loops was designed to challenge the theater norms that college productions tend to ossify. To this end, it worked without hesitation to make the audience feel uncomfortable, and as far from the world of their own familiarity as possible. Performed in a space that was less a stage than an enclosed, almost garage-like structure, Loops began in-media-res, with actors still milling around the area, weaving into and among the arriving crowd so as to confuse their sense of boundaries. Audiences were seated within the performance space itself, only inches away from the actors. With Garmany Hall’s familiar performance space so utterly reshaped, it was only a matter of minutes before the sense of another reality began to sink in.
As the play opened, the actors each occupied a different space in the hall, which was filled with countless nooks and alcoves, and lit by thousands of white holiday lights. The characters flitted from place to place without explanation or names, and began to speak quietly together, or alone, or in monologue form with the aid of a powerful voice-alteration software. On it went, until the rules were clear: Disintegration Loops presents the information: It’s the audience’s job to find it.
Some actors were difficult to hear even when speaking alone, while some projected loudly, but were still overpowered by the sounds of other conversations taking place around the space. Some of the prominent microphones on set seemed to be out of service, while others worked, amplifying only one-sided discussions and further serving to obfuscate. Minutes later, the same conversations repeated, spoken by others and conveying different emotion. It was the task of the listening audience to focus on one conversation, or another, and hone their senses enough to hear relevant information.
In the play, as this group of time-travellers drifts on through existence, they express regret about their lives. These people can never return to our reality, and must exist as liminal beings, trapped in a bubble outside of the universe. Their actions are ambiguous, and their motivations unknowable to outsiders.
Seemingly in an effort to entertain themselves, members of the group often lapse into famous moments from popular culture and flawlessly re-enact movie and television scenes. Amid the narrative chaos of a world that exists outside of time, it is downright jarring to arrive instantly at something so culturally familiar as a scene from 1985’s beloved “Back to the Future,” or a tiff between Han and Leia of “Star Wars” fame. Many of the words from these sudden moments have become etched in our collective memory, and can be identified quickly. Others take time, or can’t be placed, but thanks to the clarity of performances from William Kurach ’18,  Diana Rose Smith ’19, and other key actors, these moments of lucidity are memorable and powerful. What the frequent pop-culture pit stops fail to do is shed any light on the actual plot of the play, which remains mixed and hidden in the looping conversations of the time-travellers.
The focus of Mitch Polin’s work in Disintegration Loops must not be on plot, or hidden symbolism, or even on the individual performances of its talented group of actors. Each of these roads leads only to frustration. Instead, the show’s great achievement lies in its ability to isolate a small world apart, where every law of time, nature, and theater can be rewritten for this space alone. Loops forces us, unapologetically, to sift through stray snippets of conversation and techno-morphed voices to grapple with the objective truth of a reality that is laid out in a beautiful, inscrutable mess before us. It’s rare that theater can give the audience the gift of a great mental struggle, but Disintegration Loops does just that. By the final moments of each recurring loop, the illusion is complete: If a group of people really were doomed to wander through time, wouldn’t it look something like this?

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